Budget Barn Design

Budget Barn Design

Photo: Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Building a barn but lean on cash? See how this horse owner designed and built frugally without compromising on aspects supporting horse health

I am an environmental educator who works with horse owners, and in my travels throughout North America I have toured a lot of barns. Over the years I've scrutinized these facilities for chore efficiency, environmental sensitivity, and promotion of horse health, while making mental notes about what approaches I might adopt if building my own barn.

That opportunity arose in 2010 when my husband and I bought horse property in southwestern Idaho, moving there from Washington. Part of my business plan for our new place included a horse motel and guest ranch. And, unlike the owners of some of the glorious barns I had visited over the years, I had a strict budget to contend with, meaning I needed to build my new barn with serious penny-pinching in mind.

Maybe you're looking to construct, design, or refurbish your barn, but are feeling the economic pinch. Or maybe you want to expand your horse-keeping business, but you don't have the pocketbook to match. I'll describe some ways to get the most bang for your buck while not skimping on aspects crucial to your horse's well-being.

Planning for Our Needs

A horse motel is a short-term boarding operation set up for folks traveling through the area with horses or for those arriving on a horse-related vacation. Running a horse motel means a high turnover of horses, so I wanted to reduce risk of disease transmission while keeping the horses as comfortable as possible in a transient situation. Since these horses usually stand stationary during transit, I wanted to provide them with space to move around and stretch their legs. I also needed the facility to be as chore-efficient and easy to care for as possible, especially since my husband and I have other full-time jobs. Additionally, I wanted the guest barn separate from our own personal horses to reduce risk of sharing germs.

Here is what I wanted in my modest barn:

  • Shelter from driving rain, blowing snow, and intense summer sun;
  • Reduced use of bacteria-harboring material (i.e., wood);
  • Reduced use of materials that horses can chew, kick, or otherwise destroy;
  • Hygienic and easy-to-clean surfaces (i.e., not made of wood, easy to hose down or scrub);
  • Optimal ventilation;
  • Good lighting that works in cold weather, including walkway lighting for ¬evening chores or late-night arrivals;
  • Electrical outlets for plugging in clippers or other items;
  • A convenient water source;
  • A freeze-proof watering system and automatic waterers;
  • Storage space for a week's worth of hay;
  • Room to store stall-cleaning equipment (manure fork, rake, etc.)
  • Vehicle access for hay or other deliveries, the veterinarian, farrier, or emergency equipment;
  • Safe, secure barriers--walls, panels, or fencing that allow horses to see each other without injuring one another (or themselves) over the top; and
  • Chore-efficient paddock, field, and arena gates, easy to access with a wheelbarrow for manure pickup, or with a tractor for adding footing.

Confined buildings are the biggest contributors to equine respiratory infections because they can harbor dust, mold, and moisture. So I wasn't set on having stalls, particularly since they weren't in the budget. Besides, as I mentioned earlier, wood can harbor bacteria, and horses can become beavers pretty quickly, making short work of anything chewable. We decided to go stall-free.

Sometimes Less is More

The more I pondered it, the more I began to realize that all my horses needed was a roof. The design I came up with is a version of a California shelter-type barn that I've seen in my travels--basically, a roof with paddocks underneath. In our design a 24-by-60-foot roof covers five 12-by-16-foot rubber-matted stall areas, providing shelter from rain and snow as well as shade from summer sun. We live in the high desert, so rain and mud aren't as big a concern. It can get bitterly cold for short periods of time in the winter, so I figured waterproof winter turnout blankets would be necessary with this setup. We created an 8-foot aisle across the front for storing hay, preparing feed, or handling horses. The uncovered portion of each run is an additional 36 feet long, giving horses plenty of room to move around.

This open environment provides a more natural space for the horse to move around and ventilation akin to what ¬nature had in mind. Plus, the horses are next to each other and can see each other as if in a herd, which reduces stress.

We chose to build our poles and supports with metal pipe since these would be chew-proof and fire-resistant (a big concern in the dry desert area). A short wall at one end allows me to store hay with some protection from the elements and also provides space for hanging stall cleaning equipment.

Fencing around the paddocks is five feet high and made of custom-welded recycled drill piping (hollow, thick-walled steel piping used on drilling rigs). I wanted to be doubly sure these paddocks were very secure, since I would be responsible for the safety of other people's horses and because the property doesn't lend itself to perimeter fencing. Fronts of all runs are removable, so we can get in with heavy equipment if needed to add footing or level out existing material. We welded recycled horseshoes into horse-proof, easy-to-use latches and halter hooks.

For lighting we chose four-foot florescent fixtures rated for cold weather. One fixture over each of the five stalls provides plenty of light at night. We also installed outside fixtures to light the pathway to the barn, and we use a remote access to switch these on for nighttime feedings, late night arrivals, or stall checks.

We chose to install automatic waterers in our new barn for chore efficiency and horse health reasons. Automatic watering systems conserve water because they only use as much water as the horse drinks. The health advantage is that cool, clean water is always available to the horse. Plus, the water is circulating and not stagnant so it won't provide a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. We chose a design that works on geothermal principles of warming water using ground temperature. That, as well as insulation, helps keep water cooler during the summer and warmer in the winter. To guard against freezing we added electrical outlets inside the base so heaters can be installed for the cold months. The waterers also have small water pans from which the horses drink, so when we clean them we aren't dumping and wasting gallons of water.

For feeders we cut recycled 55-gallon plastic drums in half and mounted them securely to the panel fencing. These are easy to clean, and they keep hay off the ground and from blowing away. (For more on how to build these recycled feeders, see our Smart Horse Keeping blog.)

Finally, to reduce wintertime mud around the barn we installed rain gutters and downspouts on both the front and back of the building and diverted the clean roof runoff into a nearby grassy swale.

The Bottom Line

In the end, our structure's finished cost turned out to be less than half the pricetag of a pole building or indoor structure of similar proportions. It more than meets my needs as far as convenience, chore-efficiency, aesthetics, and preserving/promoting horse health.

About the Author

Alayne Blickle

Alayne Renée Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and reining competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, nationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approaches, Alayne is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise controls and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Alayne and her husband raise and train their reining horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho. She also authors the Smart Horse Keeping blog.

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